If you want to know what makes a brand tick, drive its most inexpensive models in their most basic trims.
With respect to Acura’s SUV lineup, that would be this RDX. The SUV you’re looking at has zero options other than all-wheel drive and the AcuraWatch suite of active safety features. AWD on its own would means the RDX hits the road at $37,170 plus freight and dealer fees, a full $1,500 over the base FWD model that starts at $35,670, while AcuraWatch adds another $1,300 to the bottom line in either trim, my tester still priced well at just $38,470. Despite its mostly base features the RDX is packed full of high value features and is loads of fun to drive.
A shortlist includes standard V6 power, Acura’s Jewel Eye LED headlights, LED taillights, 18-inch alloys, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton ignition (that’s made from anodized red metal for a sporty touch), ambient cabin lighting, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, dual-zone auto climate control with large dials at each side for easy operation while wearing winter gloves, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, five-inch color infotainment, a multi-angle rearview camera with guidelines, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a 360-watt seven-speaker stereo, satellite radio, text messaging functionality, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, heated front seats, a powered moonroof, a HomeLink garage door opener, active sound control, and a powered liftgate.
Remember AcuraWatch? This reasonably-priced suite of active driver-assist features includes a color multi-information display within the primary gauge cluster, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist, all helping the compact SUV achieve a best possible IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating, while even the most basic RDX benefits from a five-star NHTSA crash test rating.
I appreciate the auto industry’s new focus on accident avoidance, because not too long ago the vehicles we drove were only winning such kudos for crash test survival. Of course, it’s much better to avoid an accident altogether, but even when all of these active electronics are in place the vehicle in question still needs to be capable of keeping control while braking quickly and turning at the same time if necessary, or in other words, good driving dynamics still need to be part of the package.
Agility has always been an RDX hallmark, the newest model no exception thanks to standard amplitude reactive dampers enhancing an inherently well-sorted suspension setup that consists of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in back. Together with standard all-wheel drive that sends up to 40 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels in dry conditions or maintains a 50/50 torque-split on slippery surfaces, plus standard electronic stability and traction control, the RDX delivers superb road-holding capability.
Of note, AWD is only applied when necessary so as to minimize fuel consumption, and to that end the RDX’ engine employs i-VTEC variable valve timing and Variable Cylinder Management, the latter shutting a bank of cylinders down when cruising or otherwise not exerting as much energy, therefore helping the RDX achieve an EPA rating of 20 mpg city, 28 highway, and 23 combined with FWD or 19 mpg city, 27 highway, and 22 combined with AWD, which are very good results for a powerful V6.
Yes, standard six-cylinder performance is just one more RDX bonus, the SUV’s 3.5-liter V6 capable of 279 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, plus most importantly in the luxury class, smooth, quiet operation. Most will agree the low NVH levels of a V6 are preferable over a four-cylinder when refinement is at stake, which is one of the reasons this entry-level RDX feels more upscale than its base competitors.
Put right foot to the floor and the surge of power and wonderful sounds emanating from ahead of the firewall and exhaust behind bespeak performance SUV, the paddles on the steering wheel and aforementioned agile handling combining for a truly sporty experience from the driver’s seat. Zero to 60 mph takes a mere 6.0 seconds, the RDX’ well-proven six-speed automatic plenty responsive to input when Sport mode is engaged, the entire SUV loads of fun when pushed hard.
Seriously, the biggest challenge is keeping the RDX to the posted limit, as it loves to go no matter if you’re zipping around town, hitting the highway, or heading up to the ski hill on a serpentine mountain road. Handling is superb and braking strong, while the ride is firm in the Germanic sense, but never jarring. The body structure feels extremely tight and solid, easily up to the standards of its premium competitors. Dial back the joy meter to normal operation and the RDX returns to its comfortable, relaxed self, a terrific SUV for running errands around town or hitting the road on the weekend.
To that end the multi-adjustable front seats are very comfortable, plus two-way heatable in base guise and ventilated in upper trims. I had no problem finding the ideal driving position, the two-way powered lumbar support fitting the small of my back perfectly, while the tilt and telescopic steering column allowed for plenty of rake and enough reach to satisfy most any body type.
I found the rear seating area comfortable and roomy too, the outboard positions particularly supportive thanks to nicely formed lower back cushions. I had about six inches ahead of my knees when the front seat was set for my five-foot-eight frame, and approximately four inches above my head, plus another four inches next to my outside shoulder and hips. It wouldn’t be difficult to get three abreast comfortably, although it’s nicer for two as the center armrest is ideally placed for comfort and also includes dual cupholders.
An RDX forte is cargo management, Acura providing a generous 26.1 cubic feet behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 76.9 cubic feet when they’re folded forward, which is extremely easy thanks to standard sidewall-mounted levers. Tug one and that side immediately flips down, followed by a carpeted flap covering the gap between the seat base and cargo floor that would otherwise eat wayward groceries. The cargo floor isn’t completely flat when folded, with the portion above the seats canting upward, but the convenience is worth a slight rise in the middle. The cargo area is nicely finished, with high-grade carpeting on the floor, seatbacks and sidewalls, while chromed tie-down rings are placed in each corner to secure large, loose items.
Speaking of interior refinement, the passenger compartment is much nicer since the RDX was updated for the 2016 model year, with more soft, pliable synthetic surfaces including the entire dash top, most of the instrument panel, the door uppers and inserts, etcetera, although the primary instruments still feature two analog dials bookending a color multi-information display at center, and this an upgrade over the base monochromatic trip computer.
The smallish five-inch infotainment system really gives this base model away, however, but that doesn’t mean it’s not serviceable. It gets a clear backup camera with guidelines and other useful functions such as display interfaces for audio, Bluetooth phone settings, car feature settings, and you can even set up individual wallpapers. Additionally it includes a brightness meter, and just below is a small LCD screen for temperature functions.
Other RDX shortcomings include hard plastic roof pillars instead of class-average fabric and a few more hard plastic surfaces elsewhere than most rivals. Still, the leather-like door panels and armrests are a cut above, the RDX balancing its yin with its yang quite well.
In fact, the steering wheel is particularly good, with a sporty thick leather-wrapped rim and large nicely fitted switchgear on the spokes, while the shift knob gets wrapped in classic baseball-stitched leather, as does the skirt below. Plenty of satin metal and chrome accents can be found throughout, the RDX a great place to wile away the morning commute.
With driver’s side memory that also controls the side mirrors which include auto reverse tilt,
If this base RDX isn’t enough to woo you, Acura makes two additional trim packages available. The mid-range is occupied by a $3,700 Technology package that adds a larger eight-inch LED backlit VGA infotainment display with navigation and mapping, trip and traffic incident info, phone messages, voice activation settings, a calendar, clock, Siri Eyes-Free, Song By Voice, Aha, and more, plus a separate “On-Demand” color touchscreen just below for adjusting audio, the enhanced GPS-linked and solar-sensing climate control system, an upgraded 410-watt, 10-speaker ELS surround sound system with hard drive media storage and HD radio, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, and more. Additionally, the Technology includes an enhanced rearview camera system with dynamic guidelines, AcuraLink telematics services, perforated leather upholstery, heatable rear outboard seats, plus blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic monitoring.
The top-line RDX also includes the $1,650 Advance package that adds fog lamps, sportier 18-inch alloys, remote start, auto-dimming side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, and ventilated front seats.
No matter how you trim it out the RDX is a very good choice in the compact luxury SUV segment, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by America’s premium buyers. They purchased 52,361 last year, making it first in the compact luxury SUV segment overall. It was also first in 2014, 2013 and 2012, Audi’s Q5 the RDX’ only serious threat for top spot, stealing the limelight in 2015. This obviously leaves Mercedes, BMW, and every other luxury brand far behind, an impressive feat.
It’s difficult to knock the RDX, as it’s strong on styling, performance, quality, refinement, features, safety, and value, all adding up to a major success in the compact SUV segment.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press